THAT ONE THING
The process of writing has little to do with writing at all. Writing can be dictated, scribbled, typed or put down in calligraphy. It can be done in many languages using all manner of letters and symbols. What is it really? Writing is nothing more than the expression of thought put down on some memorializing surface or into that surface. Very often the thought process of writing isn’t thought about or discussed at all. The phrase “given enough time anyone can be a writer” is so commonly used by the reading public that it has been said to me, a lifelong writer, at least a dozen times. I don’t think that there has ever been any intent by anyone who’s said that to me to diminish the art and practice of my writing or the writing of anyone else. It’s simply how so many people miss the ‘expression of thought’ part of the definition. And that’s the phrase where the rubber hits the road.
Great or even good writing is great or good because of the thoughts put down, not because of the putting down a process. It is difficult to have a story to tell that might be considered great if the person writing the story lacks any connection to the real world with a body of personal life experience. Having a great vocabulary, gifted usage and assembly of sentence structure or even accurate typing and/or fabulous penmanship means little if the person writing and exhibiting those talents has no story to tell. And having a story to tell that others might identify with or find interesting, much less gripping, is difficult indeed. Even among the works of the most famous writer’s on earth a whole slew of every ‘gifted’ writer’s work ends up discarded, discounted or simply read and forgotten. Simply having a few works accepted by the mass of the collected reading public has to be accepted as experiencing great success for any writer of any era. Writing also has many levels, some greater and some equal or lesser than others. Novel writing is more difficult and time-consuming than writing a short story. A screenplay is easier to write than a researched book of non-fiction. Newspaper articles may be the easiest of all to write. None of that ease or difficulty means much to readers, however.
Is “The Old Man and the Sea,” Hemmingway’s short story more famous than most published novels? Absolutely. Is it more famous because it was
easier to write than a novel, because Hemmingway became so famous from it, or is it because the story is so good? Hemmingway never got to know as he died before his true fame grew to near god-like stature. The Geneva Shore Report owns, and has on display, his skis, that are an example of how famous Hemmingway has become. One ski remains broken from one of the author’s many falls and injuries. A photo of Hemmingway holding the broken ski while wearing a cast verifies the validity of the set. So what, Hemmingway did not become famous for his skiing. It does not matter. His fame has bled all over everything the man ever wrote, touched or left behind. Hemmingway’s critical acclaim for writing isn’t the only kind of fame out there, however. There are all sorts of fame in many areas touched or associated with writing. Donald Trump is famous. That he has become famous for portraying himself, as the most well know political clown of all time, stems back from the publishing of his first book called The Art of the Deal. Will anyone remember his writing for the quality or the depth of its ability to convey a story or describe facts? Or will he go down in history for his public antics on being heard and r?ad. How he accomplished that feat is for the future to decide.
Writing and editing so many articles and stories for the Geneva Shore Report newspaper has been daunting while at the same time satisfying (consider over 1600 articles, Op/Eds and stories over more than four years). So many writers never get to publish anything of any work they write (almost all writers never publish, statistically). Although the newspaper allows for the publishing of a huge body of work, putting things in a newspaper offers little from readers in the way of critical analysis. Oh, articles definitely return a huge amount of criticism but generally that criticism is about the subject or person that was written about. The writing itself is seldom ever critiqued unless editors have allowed errors to make it in the to final print copy.
The other day, while out delivering the paper around the lake on a Wednesday morning I stopped by a business where a woman was sitting just inside the door on the end of a long bench. The business was one of the fifty-four around the lake where the GSR is available. She was reading a copy of the GSR from the previous week. I told her that I was there with the new edition so she could put her older copy back on the rack. She said, “oh no, I keep them. I always get that one thing that makes me smile or feel good.” She accepted the new issue and, since there were customers coming into and going out of the store all around me, I departed. But I could not get her phrase out of my mind. That one thing. I called the paper’s online manager to tell him of the incident, since he’s a penetrating critic of the highest order. He wanted more data. He’s like that. I told him I didn’t have the time or ability to interview the woman, nor did I get her name. The online guy had a question he wanted answered in the worst way. What was the one thing the woman was always looking for in every issue? Was it in the community expository part of the paper? The Op/Ed portion? The fictional story part? I realized that I wanted the answer to that same question and also that I was never going to get it. Only after long reflection did I come to understand that it’s not important at all that the question be answered. It was already answered in a passingly strange way. If someone like that single reader sitting in that shop can pursue reading the whole paper very week in search of that one thing, and occasionally finding it, then the paper, the editors, the mangers, the front desk, the reporters and the writers should sit back and smile.
That one thing is what we all live to write and publish. That one thing is what all readers are in search of when they read.